Monday 22 August 2016

Let's Pretend it's the Ritz | A short story and some reflections on it

Us on holiday in Rhyl
I wrote the short story that follows some time ago. When I posted it on ABC Tales  some of the comments I received noted the relevance to today's society. I agree. However, this story - although it contains much fictional detail - closely relates to something that happened to my parents and I close to 50 years ago. If I had to describe in one word how I felt during my childhood it was cherished. Yet there were times when materially we didn't have very much and for a while in my first decade we were very dependent on the generosity of others for shelter. The one memorable night when we didn't have anywhere to stay prompted me to write this: 

Let's Pretend it's the Ritz 

It’s after 11 o'clock before we find somewhere to stay. 

I’m seven and three quarters and most of the time I’m excited when I’m allowed to stay up late but tonight I’m cold and I’m tired. My feet hurt too. I was already in bed when mum woke me and said that we were going out. I was cozy and didn't want to get up. We've been staying with Auntie Sue (she’s my mum's sister) and her boyfriend David, for a couple of months now. Their flat is nice, painted in blues and greens with squashy sofas and cushions and a glass table where we sit to eat. But it's small and mum and dad and I have to sleep in the same bed. I'm usually in the middle. Auntie Sue tuts when I leave stuff on the table or watch my TV programmes. And she got cross when I ate my tea from a tray. It was only a little mark on the cushions. There was no one around when we left but there was shouting coming from the kitchen.

 I didn't hear much.

 Auntie Sue said, 'the place just doesn't feel like ours anymore, it's such a mess all the time.'
Then David said, 'have a heart Suze it's your sister and your niece.'

We left then. I don't think we'll be going back.

Things started going wrong last summer. Dad lost his job and every time I came home from school something else was missing. First it was dad's car, then some of mum's jewellery and loads of other things, even the telly and the computer. I didn't mind that as much as I minded mum crying all the time. The more she cried the more dad moaned about the 'bloody government.' Maybe they've got all our best stuff. At Christmas mum and dad had no presents at all and I only got a book and some Lego.

After the school holidays mum stopped crying and was very busy packing up what we have left. We had to leave the house I've always lived in and my cat Bingo went to live with my best friend Beth. She says I can visit whenever I like but it upsets me so I've not been much. Our furniture and most of my books and clothes are in a garage somewhere. We won't get them back until we get another house and I don't know when that will be.

I'm in my pyjamas and feeling very sleepy. Mum and dad are still dressed.

Mum rubs my back.

"Let's pretend it's the Ritz," she says.

We've played the let’s pretend game a lot lately.

"Let's pretend we're eating turkey,” instead of corned beef, for Christmas dinner.

"Let's pretend we're on a day trip to Paris," and not in the library because it’s so cold at home.

"Let's pretend we're watching our favourite film,” rather than playing in the park (AGAIN) to give Auntie Sue and David some space. They should have gone to the park, there's loads of space there.

I wasn't sure where we would end up tonight but I didn't expect it to be a train. The seats are a bit scratchy and make me itch and we are all bunched up together but I don't mind. Dad has his arm around mum and I haven't seen him do that for a while. They used to cuddle all the time which was kind of embarrassing but I miss it now they don't. Maybe the train will take us somewhere nice and mum and dad will be happy again.

I start to doze as mum talks to me about snow white sheets and gold taps, free food and drinks, breakfast in bed and sweets left on pillows. Whatever this Ritz place is it must be posh. I fall asleep and dream of hot chocolate with marshmallows. It's stuffy. I wake up hot. Mum and dad are talking. I listen.

"I'm so sorry that it's come to this," says dad.

"It's not your fault, it's no one’s fault Pete. We'll get through it. Together." That's mum.
Then it's quiet. I guess they're looking into each other's eyes and maybe, I hope, kissing because there is a bit of a slurpy noise.

"Let's go to Frank’s," my mum says after a while. She sounds kind of bossy.

"But..." I think dad wants to say more but mum butts in.

"He's your father and he’ll help us Pete. He won't get tired of having Janie around." She’s stroking my hair.

"I know your pride is hurting but put up with his advice. It's our best chance to get on our feet again. Please darling. You know I'm right," she says.

"Yes. Yes, I do," says dad after a while. "Ok, we'll go tomorrow."

"Good," says mum. She sounds pleased.

It's quiet.

I sleep again.

Mum wakes me early and helps me get washed and dressed. The water is cold and the mirror above the wash basin is dirty. There's a bit of poo on the floor in front of the loo. Mum shudders. I close my eyes and pretend. . .

"Breakfast at Maccy Ds?" asks dad as he packs my night stuff and the others things we have used.

"YES," I say. "And we don't need to pretend we're anywhere else cos MacDonald's IS THE BEST.'

Mum and dad laugh and smile at each other. Dad touches mum’s face and she kisses his cheek. Now I know that everything’s going to be ok.

We leave the train hand-in-hand and skip down the platform. Dad waves at the night watchman who opened up the carriage for us and put the heating on. I'm a bit disappointed that the train isn't taking us anywhere but I'm looking forward to my breakfast and to seeing my grandpa.

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